I used to believe that impact was directly correlated with grandeur. To make a big difference, grand gestures and one-time heroic efforts were required.
But lately, I’ve learned that impact is more often made with the process of chipping away. It’s showing up day after day, year after year.
Sometimes, showing up is scary enough. I was recently visiting with a family member that I feel somewhat disconnected with. But he matters to me. And I found myself wondering if I needed to visit more frequently.
A voice in my head nudged me to strategize– because that’s what I usually do. I rarely walk into a situation without a game plan, without thinking through a myriad of potential scenarios and how I would respond. Walking in with a well-defined plan means I am never caught off-guard, that I won’t fail (theoretically). That’s how I deal with fear. That’s my personal case of perfectionism.
But then another voice in my head reminded me that sometimes I just have to show up, knocking on the door and saying “I’m here.” Sometimes this is enough to communicate love, compassion, and encouragement. Just be present. Just be there.
Another similar situation arose on the same weekend. I was doing a Noonday trunk show with a new friend and hostess that I barely knew. She was really excited about the impact that Noonday’s artisan partners are making, but I knew little about her friend circle.
Simple personal insecurities arose. Will they like me? Will they ignore me? Which stories should I share? Which styles will they love? What words and phrases can I keep in the back of my mind to guarantee this goes well?
Again, the voice of bold compassion reminded me, “Just show up.” Just go– you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be there.
Love offers “with,” but not always “why”
There are too many instances in the Bible– and in the experience of God’s people– where God says “I am with you.” And there are numerous instances when people ask “why.”
I’ve realized that love doesn’t always answer the question why. But it always answers the question of with.
When it comes to suffering, we may not ever be able to explain it. Try as we might (and it’s important to understand systemic issues when we seek to get involved), the ultimate why often remains unanswered. Sometimes our best response to “Why is this happening to me?” is an honest “I don’t know.”
But we can always answer the with question:”Who is with me? Who can I count on?” To that, we can always say, “I am. I’m here.”
Understanding this is starting to make a huge difference in how I look at impact and flourishing. There is arguably more value in having an answer to with than to why. Why intellectualizes the issue and diminishes it to a simple problem seeking a solution from an expert. With goes straight to the heart of suffering and alleviates the more eternal search for significance. With says, “You are not alone. I care. And I’m not leaving until you do.”
There is deeper comfort– and greater impact– in with. And it’s something we all can offer.
Love casts a stone
Mother Teresa famously said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
It’s hard to imagine someone as renowned for her impact as Mother Teresa saying that she alone could not change the world. If any mere mortal could change the world, I would choose her as a high-potential candidate.
But what she’s saying is far more hopeful. We aren’t called to change the world by ourselves. We’re called to take faithful next steps, casting our stone along with Mother Teresa’s, creating ripples and inviting others to do the same.
Impact is not for those who can only “go big or go home.” It is not for those who only see themselves either giving vast amounts of wealth, or nothing at all. It is not for those who understand it to be an easy, one-time self-aggrandizing act.
Impact is commitment over time. It’s as unexciting as crunching numbers, carrying boxes, and having conversations. It’s writing letters, binding up wounds, and giving monthly. It’s ordinary people like you and me saying yes to what matters most. It’s us saying yes over time.
Faithful showing up
It is all too tempting to look upon the challenges that face our families, communities, and world, size up our own capacity, and throw our hands up in despair.
Perhaps there’s a mentally unstable person in your family unwilling to get help.
Perhaps you have a terminally ill friend who is about to pass before her time.
Perhaps the crime rate in your community is persistent and aggressive.
Perhaps the orphan crisis makes you feel hopeless.
And you find yourself wondering whether your small choice makes matters. You wonder whether your with is enough. You wonder whether the single stone you cast will cause any ripples at all.
But this is where we can either choose to be paralyzed by perfectionism and fear, or we can go forth in hope. This is when we can strategize forever, never moving forward, or we can simply show up imperfectly courageous.
The way ordinary people make a big difference is not about impressive qualifications or vast amounts of wealth. It’s difference that is made when we say “I am with you.” When we choose to cast our stones.